You walk through the door and can't help but turn your gaze from your shoes to the ceiling. You feel as if you'd entered another world. Sights all around embrace you until your eyes beg you to blink. There is so much to take in!
Is this the surprise you got the first time you popped in to Settlement Co. café? Whether you visit the downtown Kitchener location or the original Uptown Waterloo site, you cannot help but stop to inhale the fresh design. I had the delight of sitting down with Settlement Co. owner and local entrepreneur Rob Theodosiou to hear the story of how his stimulating café artscapes came together.
Rob's reputation for progressive design and expansion preceded him. After successfully establishing the local resto-brewhouse Abe Erb as a busy uptown Waterloo mainstay in 2014 with only 20 employees, and creating the trendy café space Settlement Co. in 2016 just a few doors down, he and his partners were quick to expand into downtown Kitchener with a new Abe Erb last December and a second Settlement Co. this past March.
These cozy eateries swell in size behind the scenes. As a roastery warehouse, Settlement Co. manufactures and supplies certified organic coffee to some 30 cafés and gourmet stores. And Abe Erb ships its 30 brews all the way to Kingston and Windsor. Rob explains that these ventures were birthed through a lot of grinding, long nights, failure and success. And success is now fact for both brands. But what makes a visit to them so memorable? Besides the eats? Love for design.
Mixing the Old & the New
“Artwork truly is valuable in setting the mood and theme in a place.” says Theodosiou. So what goes into creating an artscape like the one at Settlement Co?
“During any initial site planning, our focus is on functionality first,” he explains, “working interior design elements around our architect's structural designs instead of the other way around” - a mistake often made by new businesses.
He continues: “When we were putting together the Waterloo location -an old building -we wanted to mix the old with the new, incorporating modern styles. But with the Kitchener location, we had to find a way to bring the old into the new building.” How'd they do it?
Rob had the idea to capture a functioning 1970's orange Beetle from its natural habitat at the Hamilton airport. With the help of New Hamburg creative workshop BOKO, the wagon was sanded, dismantled and installed as you see it today, each part suspended from its own wire.
The buggy was not Rob's first stab at repurposing an old gem: the bartop at Waterloo's Abe Erb is resurrected burnt oak from the St Jacob's market burndown, beautifully planed and epoxied.
Recruiting the Kitchener-based branding & design company Him & Her was also an important step in the process. They coordinated efforts from various local artists to bring about an eclectic yet harmonious artscape.
The walls at the Kitchener Settlement Co. certainly echo the “old and new” theme, with steampunk murals and copper accoutrements.
Learn more about the monster doodler Moonolog here.
Owner Rob Theodosiou also brings project challenges to the University of Waterloo & Cambridge, and the creative who wins installs his/her artwork on site. “It gets them cred, exposure, portfolio building, and they get paid!” Architectural student Cam Parkin and Greenteriors' Amanda Matvin were some such artists awarded the chance to feature a "nailed moss" wall installation.
Rob meets with each artist he wants to feature, building trust, and working together in a common direction. Katherine Diemert's art stands tall at the Waterloo location, printed directly onto its vertical tabletops. Boko designer Steph Boutari has her large-scale murals featured at both of his downtown locations. “It's about collaborative collision,” says Theodosiou with smiling eyes.
How has the public reacted to these artscapes? Rob answers in behalf of both Settlement Co. locations: “Everybody just loves the design. It's very open, homey, with real living plants! I wanted to get away from the dark, rustic, antique and industrial look.” The patronage itself confirms his happy observation. Even with King St closed for construction, the Waterloo café is packed on a Friday morning.
Settlement Co. is the only Canadian Certified Organic roastery warehouse and café outside of Toronto. Owner Rob Theodosiou says after eleven months of cutting through red tape, they were proud to be recognized by the USDA as a "green" business.
A Boon for Artistic Débutants
Regulars are not the only ones thankful for these homey havens of artistic diversity. Our city's community of artists is truly grateful to be enriched and supported by progressive businesses like these.
Settlement Co. is a draw for local artists like Jess and Mel. They frequent the King St. location where they collaborate over tea.
The Creatives of Settlement Co: (click for their stories & more art)